“Three or four years ago, I got smart after I realized how much I don’t know,” says Larry Halpern, president of Safe Systems, Louisville, Colo. With 28 years of experience as president of a privately held, locally owned Colorado alarm company, Halpern discusses with SDM e-News the importance of realizing one’s limitations in order to grow.
Halpern founded Safe Systems in 1982 while studying business administration at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Six years later, the company was SDM’s 1988 Dealer of the Year in the up to $1 million category. “It was really exciting,” Halpern says. “We were small at the time in Boulder, Colo. You might not have heard of Boulder at the time. It gave us such momentum.” In that article, Halpern recalls, Safe Systems’ growth was largely attributed to its work with fire alarms. “We’re always looking for new technologies and better ways to serve customers and bring it to that next level. We started getting rid of phone lines shortly after that article; started working with radio. We’re on the leading edge but not in the bleeding edge of technology.”
This year, Safe Systems was ranked No. 73 on the SDM 100 and Halpern says the goal is for the company to keep working its way up the report. One of the biggest accomplishments for the company since receiving the Dealer of the Year award was becoming a part of Security Network of America (SNA). “We’re sharing info with the cream of the crop in the industry,” Halpern describes. He believes that companies can learn much from industry leaders. “I like to ski with people who are a little bit better than me, because it pushes me to the next level. If you’re not willing to push, you’re never going to get better.”
Safe Systems currently has more than 10,000 subscribers, primarily located in Colorado’s Front Range. More than 50 percent of those subscribers are in the commercial space; especially management companies and commercial fire and access control, Halpern describes. Safe Systems specializes in custom security systems and provides monitoring services through its UL-listed central station.
“To take the company to the next level, I needed to bring in the next level of management. We formed an advisory board and started going through different departments,” Halpern relates. As a result, Safe Systems hired an operations manager, sales manager, and senior financial professional to bring fresh perspectives and best practices to the company. “This team is working on improving processes and procedures to optimize efficiencies and results.”
Halpern believes that being able to look within a company and recognize where additional expertise is needed is key to growth. “You’ve got the entrepreneur thinking he knows everything,” he says. “By having other people to work with, you’re looking deeper to what makes sense. He adds that too often, companies promote from within and achieve less-than-stellar results. “You have a guy who’s a great technician and you keep moving him up to a job that maybe he’s not great for,” he observes.
Halpern highlights the importance of leveraging the strengths of team members — always pushing for individual growth that will lead to company growth. “We see a lot of competitors copy the different technologies we bring to market, but they don’t have the knowledge to manage those technologies,” Halpern says. “We believe in continuing education, whether that is executive education or technicians learning new products and new technologies.” Halpern adds that the company offers opportunities to attend classes rather than just passing out manuals.
Path to Growth by a College Entrepreneur, Motivated Skier & Past Dealer of the Year
November 18, 2010